Author: Audrey Driscoll

Writer, gardener, lapsed cataloguer, and author of the Herbert West Series.

Why I’ll Never Be Well-Read

Because there are too many books. Not only the deluge of new books pouring forth from the Big 5 publishers, small presses, and millions of indies, but all the worthwhile books produced since humans began writing. If I take the time to read a really old book (like Homer’s Iliad, for example) I feel like I’m going to miss a lot of new books. Book FOMO — how silly! Actually, I doubt that anyone can keep up with even a fraction of all the new books, or predict which ones will become classics. So I’m resigned to being spottily well-read. Half-decently read, maybe.

Categories of Books

  • Old, even ancient classics, called by some the “literary canon”
  • Current literary award winners: Booker, Giller, Pulitzer, etc.
  • Books “everyone’s talking about,” many of which have been made into movies
  • Obscure trad-pubbed books
  • Indie books (many of which are obscure)
  • Books that simply must be re-read

At present, I read mainly indie authors, some of whom I’ve met through blogging. I’ve discovered some wonderful authors whose books I will likely re-read. (There’s another dilemma — read old favourites again or abandon them in favour of the new and untried?) But quality does vary; despite reader reviews, there’s no guarantee that every book I pick up will be compelling and memorable. Ebooks are cheap and even free; their true cost is the time needed to read them.

There’s no hope I’ll ever be able to get through any literary canon. My plan for however many years I have left with a functioning brain is to stop worrying about being well-read and just read as many good books as I can. The trick is not to waste time on duds* of any sort, including “duty reads.” “It’s an award winner!” “It has a zillion 5-star reviews!” “The movie won an Oscar!” and “The author is a real sweetie,” aren’t reasons enough to keep reading if the first chapter or two (plus flipping ahead) don’t grab my attention or otherwise fail to entice me.

What about you, fellow bloggers? Do you make yourself read to the last page of a book even when your reading self tells you it’s a dud? And how do you pick books to read — anonymous reviews, book bloggers, word-of-mouth recommendations, or serendipity?

*Dud = any book you find repellent, boring, irrelevant, or otherwise not worth your time. A highly subjective assessment.

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It’s Alive! (Sort of)

Back in May, I heard a rather intriguing and disturbing story on radio. The nub of it is that researchers at Yale University were able to induce brain activity in detached heads of pigs obtained from a slaughterhouse four hours after death. They accomplished this with a technology called “BrainEx.” A system of pumps, heaters and filters perfused the dead brains with an artificial blood solution. After six hours of treatment, the brains showed cellular activity. At least one scientist commented that if the treatment had been continued, some level of consciousness may very well have been achieved .

Here is a link:
https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/how-late-is-too-late-to-revive-a-brain-pig-brain-study-raises-questions-1.5119913

My first thought: Fans of Frankenstein and Herbert West will love this! My second thought: I wonder what’s in that artificial blood. What colour is it — lurid green? Or maybe purple?

Seriously, though, this experiment raises a lot of disturbing questions, about time of death, when it’s okay to “harvest” organs for transplant, about animal experiments, and when is the spark of consciousness finally extinguished. The scientists took measures to make sure the brains did not attain full consciousness and stood by with anesthesia, just in case. (That was nice of them.)

The intent is to use the results of this study to learn more about post-mortem brain cell death and how damaged cells may be repaired. But there’s always the possibility that the unscrupulous will cite the experiment to prey upon the desperate, promising a form of immortality (for a large fee, no doubt) by hooking up brains to a pump full of magic solution. (This actually reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Whisperer in Darkness.”)

Fiction is a give and take between speculation and reality, the point where they intersect. These brain experiments may furnish material for ethicists, doctors, scientists, and for writers of speculative and horror fiction as well.

Pig Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.

Extreme Gardening?

Many sports and other activities have an “extreme” version. Think ultra-marathons, free climbing, wingsuit flying, and tightrope walking over vast chasms. There’s even extreme ironing.

So what about extreme gardening? What might that look like?

  • Gardening on someone else’s land or public land, e.g. in a park or on a boulevard. The last is known as “guerrilla gardening.”
  • Stealing plants for your garden.
  • Growing dangerous plants, such as giant hogweed, poison ivy, or poison hemlock.
  • Growing a garden of weeds (bindweed, thistles, stinging nettle, Japanese knotweed).
  • Not deadheading plants like purple toadflax or rose campion, i.e., letting them seed freely.
  • Growing tropical plants in non-tropical places; or, for that matter, alpine plants in lowlands, desert plants in rainforests, etc.
  • Growing plants on a vertical surface.
  • Growing trees in your house.
  • Growing Himalayan blue poppies.
  • Engaging in marathon pruning, weeding, or digging sessions.
  • Gardening in the nude.

I’ve actually done some of these things. Guess which ones…

Poison hemlock

The consequences and dangers of the above list include: getting arrested, skin irritation, poisoning, illness, hospitalization, lawsuits, infected wounds, sore muscles, back injuries, disappointment, frustration, weariness, and death. Notably missing is the adrenaline rush which is the main point of most extreme sports. (Well, OK, there might be a small thrill in digging up a plant from a garden that isn’t yours and vanishing into the night. But see the list of consequences.)

Unfortunately for the extremist, gardening is not a sport that produces adrenaline rushes. For one thing, results are usually slow to appear. The gardener’s main reward is occasional fits of quiet awe, in which he or she stands gazing at a plant or group of plants with a happy, vacant smile on their mug.

Meconopsis sheldonii "Lingholm" (grandis) Himalayan blue poppy
Himalayan blue poppy in bloom.

Extreme ironing image created by Greg Williams in cooperation with the Wikimedia Foundation. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Help wanted with my 99-cent sale!

Kevin Brennan is giving readers a great opportunity to discover his top-notch literary fiction. Read the reviews and buy some books! I did.

WHAT THE HELL

Last week I started a summer sale on my four Amazon novels, Yesterday Road, Occasional Soulmates, Town Father, and Fascination—each available now for just 99 cents in Kindle format.

Guess how many copies have flown off the shelves: 0.

This demonstrates the limits of Twitter marketing, since that’s basically where I’m pushing the titles, but clearly people are inundated with book ads there and pretty much block them out of their minds. I know I do. Especially books with shirtless men on the covers, of which there are myriad. Remember this classic?

But because I don’t think my books are already in the hands of all the people who would enjoy them, I’m going to keep the price at 99 cents a while longer and hope that YOU—my faithful What The Hell minions—can let the readers in your life know that they can own four fab…

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open books, grass

Creating and Fulfilling Expectations: Books as Products or Works of Art

The book as product: specific word count, story arc, number and types of characters, type of ending, and a cover suited to the genre. It may help its author make a living. Or it may not.

The book as work of art: whatever gives the writer the feeling of having a hand on the lever of creation. It may or may not become a “classic.” A posthumous one.

This is what happens when I’ve been reading too many “how to do it right” posts for writers. (Snarky aside: Judging by the vast amounts of advice we need, we writers are self-indulgent, impractical airheads, fumbling our way through the real world.)

The author of a recent such post expressed acute distress (“I almost cried!”) when a writer admitted they didn’t know the target audience for their book.

OK, all you writers hiding behind your computer screens, is this you? You don’t write your novels for a defined demographic? Well, I suppose YA authors do, but what about the rest of us? I certainly don’t. I feel a ghostly reader peering over my shoulder as I write, but I don’t know anything about them except they’re reading my book and I owe them a good experience.

I write from a need to embody in written language the stories churning in my brain. That’s what makes me sit down and crank out the words, not a market survey that indicates a taste for a specific type of novel in a particular slice of the population.

“What if they find out that … ?” and “Let me tell you how it happened. There was this thing–” These are the sources of story. Not market studies.

Many indie authors see their writing and publishing as a business. Authors with contracts to traditional publishers are nudged to deliver the correct book-shaped products with cover images accurately labelling their genres. Products must be packaged to match customer needs and expectations. That’s totally fine and logical.

Trouble is, not every writer thinks of the books they write as “products,” even if they publish them using the same platforms as do businesslike, marketing-oriented indies. Today, publishing takes many forms.

As they prepare to publish, writers may find it helpful to examine their intentions and expectations. In private, in secret if necessary. Do you want to sell a million copies? Be #1 on some list? Connect with a few readers, a secret society of people like you? Achieve perfection? Become famous? Just be able to call yourself a “published author”? Produce a printed book you can hold in your hands and post pictures of on social media? Every writer fits into one of these categories, or the infinity of spaces between them.

As in other areas of life, it helps to know what you want and act accordingly, with your expectations set to “realistic.” Then you can read and absorb only the advice that’s relevant to you, and cheerfully ignore the rest.

Despite all the expert advice, there are many indies who don’t conform, whose books straddle genres, or mix them up, or don’t belong to any genre at all. What about all those off-beat or zany cover images? (Airheads, right?) From experience I can say those books aren’t all terrible and worthless. Some are excellent, but prospective readers have to be adventurous and take a chance. Think farmers’ market or craft fair, not big box store. Spend a dollar or three and maybe discover a new and wonderful reading experience.

Until the end of July you can do just that at the Smashwords Store. The Summer/Winter Sale continues until July 31st. My books may be found here.

Almost Silent Sunday: Lily “Golden Splendour”

I intended to beaver up a writing-related post this week, but couldn’t marshal my thoughts. So the trumpet lily “Golden Splendour” must stand in for me. It is well-named — huge flowers on five-foot stems. I only wish the photos could convey the luxurious perfume as well.

Lily “Golden Splendor”

Confession: the photos are from 2010 and 2012. The lilies are blooming right now and look just like this, but I have them netted against deer. Our current gang of urban deer eat all sorts of things — fennel and pelargoniums (geraniums) as well as the usual daylilies and asters. I didn’t want to take a chance with “Golden Splendour.” The black plastic netting and the clothespins holding it to the stakes look a bit weird and detract from the beauty of the flowers.

7 pots near the pond bench: 2 hellebores, 1 variegated hosta, 1 variegated grass, 1 blue poppy, 1 empty, 1 fragment

Going to Pots

A giant blue glazed pot, a big green and blue one from Vietnam, two ochre pots with brown Chinese dragons, curvaceous plastic urns from the Canadian Tire store, dozens of repurposed black nursery pots, terracotta pots in a vast range of sizes and states. Collectively, they are homes to mature hostas, standardized privets, auricula primulas, hearty tomato plants, perennials in waiting, small seedlings, and newly rooted cuttings.

Hosta in a big pot from Vietnam

Earlier this year, I did an inventory of the plants in my garden that are growing in pots. The total came to sixty-two. That was before I added nine tomato plants and a dozen or so young perennials grown from seed or cuttings. The current total must be around seventy pots.

Heuchera coral bells "Timeless Orange" and pot "Toga Bell Yama, olive black"
Glazed ceramic pots from Asia and a basic black nursery pot (on the right).

The pots vary in size from four inches in diameter to two feet. Most of the smaller ones are plastic — reused nursery pots. The biggest ones are wooden half-barrels and a couple of Chinese “egg jars.” At one time, these big clay jars were made to ship preserved eggs from China. Chinatown grocery stores sold the empties quite cheaply to gardeners and others as impressive large containers. I don’t think they’re as readily available now, so I’m grateful to have two of them. One is positioned near the pond and occupied by a Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum). The other anchors a group of clay and ceramic pots near the front steps. It’s rather wasted on a plant of Dusty Miller. I really should think of a more worthy use for it.

Big Chinese pot ("egg jar") and small white ceramic pot
Big Chinese “egg jar” with dragon and white ceramic pot.

In addition, I have a few other glazed ceramic pots, ranging from large to medium size. Then there is a gang of the common unglazed terracotta pots from Italy. I like them, but they can’t be relied upon to withstand freezing temperatures. Eventually they crack and break, which is why I also have a shocking number of half-pots, quarter-pots, and a bucketful of potsherds. Plastic is practical but can look cheap and ugly, especially the nursery pots. They eventually get brittle too. I have a couple of good quality plastic pots that look like terracotta from a distance.

The two pots in front are plastic; the one to the rear on the left is unglazed terracotta; Chinese “egg jar” in the centre background.

Seven Truths About Pots

  • Pots provide plants with ideal little environments — the perfect soil and no competition from other plants, unless the gardener doesn’t bother to remove volunteers and weeds. I know this from experience, having lost a couple of potted lilies to hearty invaders.
  • Potted plants can be moved indoors or under some sort of cover for the winter months. This makes it possible to grow things like lemon trees in places with cold winters — as long as the gardener has the strength to move the pots, that is. I have a jade plant and a variegated weeping fig that summer outside. A special set of straps makes it easy less difficult to lug them in and out. The operation does take two, however.
  • Pots can be moved around to ensure optimal light exposure. They can be positioned strategically to enhance a planting when in bloom and whisked offstage when finished. But see above re lugging.
  • Pots need to be watered, sometimes as frequently as once or even twice a day, depending on weather and the size of the occupant. At its peak, a tomato plant’s roots totally fill the pot and pump through a lot of water, maintaining itself and plumping up the tomatoes. Forgetting to water, even for a few days, means rapid decline and death. Unlike plants in the ground, potted plants can’t put forth roots to seek moisture. They’re like caged animals that need to be fed.
  • Some woody plants (shrubs and trees) confined to pots stage breakouts by growing roots through the drain holes in the bottom of the pot. If the soil below suits them, they take off and grow. Forget being a potted subject. I’m a tree! The gardener must keep an eye on these sneaky individuals, and do some judicious root pruning now and then.
  • All gardeners acquire a shoal of plants in small pots — gifts from fellow gardeners, impulse buys, divisions, and “spares” of rooted cuttings or seed sowings. Very few plants will prosper indefinitely in a four-inch plastic pot. The gardener should have a plan for every one of these temporary pot denizens — a date by when it should be planted permanently, given away, or otherwise disposed of.
  • Permanently potted plants need annual maintenance. Fertilizer of some sort, up-potting or re-potting, trimming, etc. Some plants withstand being root-bound better than others. Delphiniums, for instance, need to be turned out of their pots annually, and then returned to them with fresh soil. Otherwise, the soil becomes compacted and the roots rot over the winter. Goodbye, delphiniums. But I can’t grow them well in the ground because they can’t deal with the maple tree roots. This year’s star specimen is five feet tall and has bloomed well. With the black pot hidden by other plants, it looks like part of the bed it’s in. (Just in case, I rooted a couple of its new shoots this spring. They are now potted up. Add two more to the inventory.)

Despite the above, pots (or, more broadly, containers) are an important feature of most gardens. They add life to hardscapes like decks and patios, and they make it possible to grow things not suited to one’s native ground. All gardeners want to grow stuff they can’t.

Potted delphinium in perennial bed
Five-foot-tall potted delphinium.

Summer/Winter Sale at the Smashwords Store

Every July, thousands of ebooks go on sale at the Smashwords Store. Many are free. This year the store has an updated interface to make browsing easier.

Anyone can set up a free account at Smashwords to buy and download ebooks in a variety of formats, including Kindle-friendly Mobi format.

The sale runs from 12:01 a.m. Pacific Daylight Saving Time July 1st (that’s right now, folks!) to 12 midnight July 31st.

All my books are enrolled in the sale. Click here for my author profile page and titles.